On Monday, Britain unveiled tougher immigration measures aimed at making the country a less attractive destination for economic migrants who claim refugee status. Over the past few years, dozens of Roma families from the Czech Republic have set for a journey to Britain in the hopes of receiving asylum there. Although the majority of them have been turned down, Czech Roma keep leaving the country. Under the new immigration measures in Britain, ten countries aiming to join the European Union by 2004, including the Czech Republic, will be given 'safe' status to stop people applying for asylum on the grounds that they live in danger at home. British authorities claim they are economic immigrants, rather than victims of persecution in their own country. Alena Skodova spoke with Markus Pape from the European Roma Rights Centre, and began by asking him whether the tougher immigration measures in Britain would prevent Czech Roma from applying for asylum there?
"I don't think so. Our experience from the past five or six years shows that such measures can hardly prevent people from escaping from their country, because they take care of their children, they are interested in the safety of their children, and so they look for a safer place."
Yes, they claim it's mostly security reasons which force them out of the country - but Britain says the Czech Republic is a safe and democratic country, so do you think that Roma rights are really not fully observed here, that Roma are unsafe?
"I think that the Czech government indeed has made some efforts to improve the situation, to create a tolerant atmosphere in the society, but on the other hand we have a lot of cases where neo-Nazis and violent racists attack Roma and are not being prosecuted for this or being punished with ridiculous sentences, and we have to say that we've already found with one neo-Nazi in the Czech Republic a concept for genocide against Roma and we believe that this is another evidence for the development and the progress of racist politics of Czech neo-Nazis. Czech police have not been able so far to prosecute the chief of that dangerous movement."
But Britain seems not to acknowledge this reason - why?
"Well, of course the Czech government sends a lot of material to the European Union and to the government of the United Kingdom, and tries to prove that everything's all right, but the United Kingdom does not get enough information and it does not find enough information in the Czech media about such a big lack of protection of Roma human rights, so we are trying to improve this, we are working on this, and it's up to the British government whether they will accept it or understand it, or not. But of course, we don't want Roma to emigrate and leave the country, we want them to stay and be able to get back to the country, but as I say there's lack of necessary measures made by the government here in the Czech Republic."
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